Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

You Review: The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Reviewed by Henk van Doorn

I nearly forget why I read books before I started to read this marvelous book with its compelling story and wonderful people in it.

The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a gem. I have been reading a lot for work and therefore reading books was not my first choice to spend some free time on. But I was drawn into this extraordinary book about books, a bookshop and love. Love for books, love for life.

It transported me into another world in which I was touched by another set of circumstances, other lives. I think the reason why a lot of people watch sitcoms on TV, listen to music, play a videogame, make facebook one of their favorite retreats, or twitter their fingers to the bone, is to have a break from their own routine, their daily life. To step into the lives of others and feel connected to them. It’s like meeting new friends, share their lives, their loves, and it makes you feel alive. It gives you a new perspective. Forces you to take a step back and realize how important it is to love. To live your own life, to cherish what you have and the people that are important to you.

This book gently shows you again and again that when one door closes, another door will open. No matter what happens or how big the loss is. That if you get set in your ways and the problems seem to stack up, it is easy to get disappointed and negative about things. But good things inevitably do happen. Like things inevitably change. That even when all goes wrong and you are down and out, it is so vitally important to keep an open mind. You might find something new you like and maybe even learn something, or will be reminded of something you nearly forgot. Maybe that life flows on? That there is always hope and a new beginning, no matter how big the loss is, or whatever happened. That life is like a boat or a train on a journey. It will sail or leave the station. On its way to new experiences. New sights. And new people to meet. Better be on it, or you might miss out..

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

This book has two titles:  The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry in the UK and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry in the US.

Ebooks available for All These Things I’ve Done and Because It Is My Blood.

You Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill – Marjorie Agosin

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Reviewed by Laura Baaijens

I Lived on Butterfly Hill is nothing short of a cute book. Set in the time of a dictatorship, there are hardships, of course, but the characters are all so likeable and inspiring that it nicely balances out the nerve-wracking situation they are all in. It may be a fictional girl living under a fictional government, but as Marjorie Agosín, the author, grew up during the real Chilean dictatorship, we can assume that she paints quite an accurate picture. At least from a child’s point of view.

We first see Celeste in her hometown, with her family and friends, going to the school she’s always gone too, enjoying all the beautiful parts of the Chilean culture. Yet things begin to change. Strange ships show up, classmates disappear, books are burned and eventually the grown-ups around her can not keep the truth of the situation from her anymore.

Her parents run a free clinic to help the poor and as the dictator does not agree with any sort of charity or free-thinking, they have to go into hiding. Eventually Celeste herself is forced to go live with her aunt in the United States until all is safe again.

How long will she stay there? Will she even be able to go back? And if so what will she find when she gets home? Can she blend in and feel at home in the States until then?

Everything is very uncertain. Not just for the characters in the book, the plot is quite unpredictable for the reader as well. It keeps this YA novel really interesting and will have you read quickly.

The story is accompanied by illustrations by Lee White. They were added after the copies for reviewers were printed.  Judging by the cover, however, they will be amazing and will help lift this story to a whole new level. All in all, I Lived on Butterfly Hill is quite a unique book. It is poetic, a tiny bit spiritual, but most of all a compelling story about a girl growing up and finding her place in the world.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Pulitzer Prize Winners 2014

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Congratulation to everyone who won a 2014 Pulitzer Prize last night!  The full list can be found here; the winners in the Letters and Drama categories are:

Fiction: The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt *
Drama: The Flick – Annie Baker
History:  The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 – Alan Taylor
Biography or Autobiography:  Margaret Fuller: A New American Life – Megan Marshall
Poetry: 3 Sections – Vijay Seshadri
General Nonfiction: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation – Dan Fagin

* True story:  I saw my very first goldfinch yesterday morning as I was on a run!  I should have kept running to the nearest bookie, obviously.  :-)  Very pretty and quick bird, and very striking, too.

You Review: Plague and Cholera – Patrick Deville

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Reviewed by Didi Groenhoff

This the tale of an era of discoveries, rapid development and most of all: dreams. It is the tale of a time in which the professions of scientist and explorer could easily be combined. Enter the late 19th century through the life of Alexandre Yersin (1863-1943): a scientist and explorer that got to enjoy the possibilities of the 19th century and had to witness the shattered dreams of the 20th.

Although you (and me, before reading this book) may never have heard of the man, Yersin is not just anybody. Not only did he unlock large parts of Vietnam, he was also a scientist at the French Pasteur Institute. He was the first to find the plague bacillus and his research resulted in the first anti-plague serum, a major discovery. What sets him apart from the explorer-scientists we are generally familiar with is that Yersin never sought to be remembered. He never fell for the temptations of fame but devoted his life to research, preferably in solitude. He is remembered now, in a story that is half fiction, half reality, and as much of an ode to Yersin as to his many like-minded colleagues and their 19th century.

Plague and Cholera is beautifully told in a style that forces you to slow down and relax. Keep an (online) encyclopaedia at hand though. Deville uses basic French historical facts to pinpoint moments in time, but those of us who are not French might need some background information in order to keep track.

One big disappointment: the cover promises the writers presence in the book will add an extra dimension, similar to what we have seen in Binet’s HHHH and Carrère’s Limonov. It was this promise that got me tempted to pick this novel. Patrick Deville uses a figure called ‘the ghost of the future’: the writer that travels along the paths of his subject armed with the inevitable Moleskine notebook and fantasises on what it would have been like.

Unfortunately this ghost adds nothing the reader himself would be unable to derive from the main narrative, which makes him superfluous and even somewhat annoying.  Luckily he never stays long. Speed read through these parts, and take your time to enjoy a marvellous story of an era of exploration, research, discoveries and what seemed to be endless possibilities.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Plague and Cholera was translated from French to English by J. A. Underwood.  An ebook is available.

You Review: The Free – Willy Vlautin

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Reviewed by Esther van Dijk

The Free is a very raw book. Three people (a soldier who came back from the war wounded, his caretaker, a man that has difficulty making ends meet and has no other option than working his two dead-end jobs, and a nurse with a complicated family life but who has a big heart nonetheless) are connected through their not-similar-but-equally-disturbing problems. Each of them is worth a story, and Willy Vlautin has done right by them by not forcing them into each other’s stories but just casually letting them slide by each other.

The characters are very relatable, but also quite depressing. Hard-working people that don’t get a break – Vlautin really doesn’t seem to see a silver lining. But that’s also what makes this book so believable. I think it’s quite American in its themes, with the healthcare problems and the enlisting of young people for the National Guard and then being called on for a war they didn’t expect to be in. But it is very well-written; you don’t need any background information to get drawn in by the story.

Yet, at the end, it didn’t leave me satisfied. I didn’t want to pick it up and start again. I wasn’t sorry that it was finished. This might be because in the end, Vlautin doesn’t give you any real answers, no happy ending (though a happy ending might’ve been weird, seeing the life crises being wrapped up in one big fairytale ending), or it might be because it isn’t a book that makes you feel good. It makes you think. About poverty, about war, about healthcare, and most of all, about family.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebook available of The Free and his earlier books: The Motel Life, Northline and Lean on Pete.